The Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida holds their election and conference tomorrow, and if the debate leading into it is any indication, it will be bellwether for how clubs and caucuses operate under the FDP’s new leader, Stephen Bittel.
Since Bittel took the helm of the party there’s been speculation about how much autonomy an organization like the Progressive Caucus might be able to enjoy. Bittel is known for managing things, and it’s rumored that he intends to “manage” clubs and caucuses from within — either by exerting pressure, or filling seats with party loyalists.
It was in this atmosphere that DPCF President Susan Smith asked Vice President Tom Conboy to step down, in order for her to pick a new VP who would eventually take over the caucus as President. Conboy was blindsided by the move, but tried to work with Smith to find a candidate both could agree upon. Smith was uninterested, and told Conboy “I guess we’ll have an old fashioned election, then.”
That’s when a group of new Chapter members formed a slate to run as “accountability progressives,” and many on the existing board doubled-down on Smith’s initial pick. The unfortunate situation has led to factionalizing the Progressive Caucus, with many members seeing this as a “thumb on the scale” move, much like the improprieties Sanders faced during the 2016 Presidential Democratic Primary by Debbie Wasserman Schulz, Donna Brazile and others in the DNC who actively supported candidate Clinton.
Everyone has an opinion about how the party comported itself during the Primary, and that will continue to boil over into other business as long as we avoid the truth of what the party did to Sanders. This dustup in the DCPF is simply a continuation of that battle. So let’s review.
The DNC kneecapped Sanders, pushing his campaign and supporters aside for a candidate who couldn’t win. That’s a fact. Clinton lost to the GOP candidate her campaign worked to elevate, thinking they’d have an easy battle against him. Democrats to the left of Rahm Emanuel were targeted as enemies of the party by David Brock’s million+ online troll operation. Clinton was provided debate questions by Donna Brazile. Debates were limited to an asinine, six events, half of which were held on holidays or opposite sporting events — giving most Americans no access to the Democratic message after months of record-breaking viewership for Republican debates. Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart was told to question Sanders’ faith tradition (oh noes, he’s Jewish! possibly atheist!). Capehart further embarrassed himself claiming that photos of Sanders during his civil rights days, weren’t actually him, but another guy who just looked like him. The new leader of the DNC, Tom Perez, advised Clinton to smear Sanders as the candidate of “angry white people,” leading to the famously offensive “Bernie Bro” smears against supporters who did nothing more than expect the party to continue in the tradition of FDR in supporting people instead of “economic royalists.”
I could go on and on. There’s so much the party did to alienate voters who could have delivered a wave election. What’s completely inexplicable, is the party continues to send the message that these voices; these volunteers; these small dollar donors, are simply not wanted in the party.
And so, it’s a continuation of this nasty tribal battle to continue to push progressives out of the party — especially, to push progressives out of the Democratic Progressive Caucus.
Maybe the DPCF will emerge from this election prepared to work with new progressives in a democratic process they can be proud of. That means avoiding the appearance of thumb-on-the-scale impropriety in elections, and supporting full and fair representation from Chapters on the Board.
It’s unfortunate that there was a move to handpick leaders because it’s led to the impression that the organization is more interested in currying favor with FDP leadership, than it is with keeping its Board free from factionalism that is barely being contained beneath the surface of the party.
I’ve heard from many that the this election just doesn’t feel Democratic. Candidates have been attacked for having the gall to challenge some who were handpicked. Isn’t that what Democracy is all about?
Regardless of how tomorrow plays out, the larger question remains: How will the Democratic Progressive Caucus be able to function under the “management” of FDP Chair Bittel?
My guess is that if all this happened two years ago, you wouldn’t have seen the DCPF work for bold progressives like Alan Grayson in primaries against New Democrats/Blue Dogs like Patrick Murphy.
What’s worse, given the nature of this one battle, one might further venture to guess that bold progressives might not find a place in Democratic campaigns going forward. Give us more Alex Sinks, and Charlie Crists — and castrate the clubs/caucuses that are meant to keep you in touch with the grassroots — and you’ll have a party even further from relevance than it is now.